Once upon a time in Texas, there was a girl with an appetite and a dream...


Please send a Lettere, Maria

Last weekend as Jeremy and I had the pleasure of lunching with Michele Scicolone at Keste' in New York, I came across the most unlikely but very familiar sparkling red wine.

Please read Jeremy's report on the food here, and his definitive essay answering the question on the pizza with wine or pizza with beer debate.

Although DoBianchi and I do love some Lambrusco, and its southern counterpart, Gragnano, this was neither. Imagine my surprise when I saw an open bottle of Lettere (pron. LEH-te-rey) open on the counter of Keste'! The dork in me squealed with delight, as this is such a rarity to see in the states. When I ordered it from the waiter (quite rudely, I gave my dining companions no other option) he insisted that I meant Gragnano. "No, Lettere" I said..."Gragnano...?" he responded.

Just look at those purple bubbles! How can you not want to dive in?

I got up, showed him the empty bottle, and successfully resisted the urge to explain the difference. He dug around the back of the refrigerator and found the last bottle. Whew.

It turns out that the Cantine Federiciane Gragnano supplier was out of stock, so they sent the Lettere in its stead. They are practically interchangeable, so it was a fluke that we stumbled upon this bit of Campania in Manhattan's West Village.

There is no better companion to pizza (besides beer) than a cool glass of fizzy red wine. All over Campania, Gragnano and Lettere are the pairings of choice for all types of pizza and panuozzi. They are fragrant, simple, and low in alcohol. The zesty bubbles make quick work of pizza dough and rich mozzarella without overwhelming the delicacy inherent in REAL pizza napoletana.

So, Gragnano and Lettere are two sub zones of the Penisola Sorrentina DOC and are named for the eponymous villages. (You can read a post I wrote about Gragnano almost 4 years ago here.)
The grapes allowed in both for 'rosso frizzante' are piedirosso (min 40%), sciascinoso (the local name for Olivella**) and/or aglianico (max 20%), and 'others' (max 40%).

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Drinking a Gragnano and a Lettere from the same producer can reveal a slight difference between the two, but they are equally delightful. One of my favorites from my days in Campania was Vini Iovine, though I'm sure they aren't available in Texas. Any adventurous Texan importers out there...?

Lettere is one of those rare pieces of southern Italian authenticity that one can occasionally find stateside. Along with Gragnano it is a wine that you simply must try, for the the sheer fun of it.

Well, I'll leave the etymological research of the name Lettere to my DoBianchi, but for now if you live in New York, go out and get some!

**The name olivello is a reference to the elongated shape of the grapes, similar to an olive. It is believed that there are two different types of olivello, one being sciascinoso, the other being true olivello. There is much more than a footnote to be done about this grape alone, not to mention the dialectical name for piedirosso. Stay tuned.


Anonymous Jack Everitt said...

Checking CellarTracker, I find 3 Gragnano's and 2 Lettere's. So, very unfortunately, these are not wines a US resident will be able to pair with pizza. (Unless one travels to Rome.)


12/01/2009 10:23 AM

Blogger Iron Chevsky said...

Quite informative. I'll be on the lookout for both wines. Thanks!

12/01/2009 10:53 AM

Blogger Alfonso Cevola said...

miss your regular blogs - nice to see

12/01/2009 11:15 AM

Blogger Do Bianchi said...

That wine was sooooo good, Tracie B! I'm so glad it caught your eye and you insisted that the waiter bring it over... so perfect for pizza... I was so happy to be your research assistant this morning and I LOVE tandem blogging! :-)


p.s. if you're available later, I can share some more of my research with you... ;-)

12/01/2009 1:38 PM

Blogger nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

that wine sounds and looks delicious.

12/02/2009 1:10 AM

Blogger Tracie P. said...

jack--do you mean 3 producers or 3 bottles?

iron--thanks for reading!

ace--thanks ace :) i miss it too, just can't seem to find the time...

2B--thanks for taking me to 'the city' for the day! always an adventure with you, 2b :)

nyc--not sure how available it would be in rome, look for gragnano instead, might be easier.

12/02/2009 8:10 AM

Anonymous J.Doe said...

I know I should write a comment about wine, but that pizza looks SO good!

12/04/2009 10:13 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Better late than never................

12/05/2009 9:19 AM

Blogger Michele Scicolone said...

You will have to come back to New York, Tracie.
We drank a bottle of Lettere again at Keste!

12/06/2009 6:53 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


12/19/2009 8:49 PM

Blogger Chef Chuck said...

Yumm that pizza looks great!!

12/28/2009 4:09 PM

Blogger youtubeline said...

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1/09/2010 1:26 PM


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